"Come on Veda."
The girl took a deep breath, ignoring her name. This was it. Maybe she'd made a mistake. She was only sixteen. Her father never listened to her crazy ideas before. This one he was okay with?
Tudor Lom seemed like such a nice guy. He was kind enough to fly her over, and wasn't even mean while he did it. Some of the Rd Scythe pirates could be jerks. She'd met a few of them. Her father's trading outpost on the mining asteroid had become partial to Hardbarger's group. The man was tough, but always reliable. She'd spent a lot of time helping to unload ships and-
Looking up sharply, she blushed and unstrapped herself from the co-pilot's chair. That last voice she'd only heard on the comm in her father's office, but she knew it well. Hardbarger was screaming in from outside. She needed to get out of the ship right now. As she came down into the hangar, Tudor shot her an apologetic glance.
"So," Hardbarger boomed, "little Veda Meyers wants to fly spaceships, huh?"
She kept silent. The imposing man was easily six and a half feet tall, with rippling muscles, and a long, braided beard. His eyes were dark brown, but raged like the maelstrom of Jupiter's great spot. He seemed angry, but she she couldn't tell.
"That is why you're here, isn't it girl?"
Meekly, she nodded.
"Seems like a problem here, Lom," he said, turning to the pilot. "Seems like you left her voice box back at the asteroid."
"No," she said quietly, "I can talk."
"Excellent!" Hardbarger put a meaty palm to her back and pushed her along, out of the hangar. "Let's go and get you some quarters set up. I think we'll put you with Sadie. No use putting you too close to the pilots, you'll learn from them all in good time."
"Wait, wait," Veda protested, her voice becoming much stronger. "My father said you were going to teach me how to fly spaceships!"
Hardbarger laughed deeply, but pulled his hand from her back. Nodding at Tudor, he left the hangar.
"Well, Veda, we appreciate that you want to fly spaceships, we really do," Lom started, "but it doesn't just start with you jumping in the cockpit. See, we have this simulator, and you'll need to spend a lot of time on that. While you're learning, though, you need to earn your keep. This isn't a school, and you need to pitch in a bit."
"Pitch in how? At my father's, I used to help you unload the ships all the time, you know. Just because I'm thin, don't think that I'm not strong!"
"No, no, we know that. You'll help out there, too, just loading instead of unloading. I'm also going to introduce you to Beck. He's a mechanic, and he's going to teach you about how the systems work. Helping him out, and learning to do little tasks to free up his time for more important ones, that'll help us out a lot. That's how you'll earn your keep."
She thought for a moment. This wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind, but it was closer. At least she was here, in the Red Scythe's headquarters. An actual space ship took her here. Her dream was really going to come true. It was just going to take a while.
"How about when I get really good on the simulator?"
"When your scores get high enough," he held out a hand, "and, yes, we have a target range so you don't think we're cheating you, I'll take you out and turn the controls over. We'll start off in a small trainer craft. It keeps down the property damage just in case you kill us both."
"Gee, thanks Tudor."
"Hey," he said with an easy smile, "not a problem!"
Hardbarger sat in his office, waiting for the comm to connect.
"Meyers Trading Post," the man on the other end said, "how can I help you?"
"Erik, this is Hardbarger."
"Hardbarger!" The man's excitement was palpable. "How's my little girl doing? She's still alive, right?"
"Of course she is, what do you take me for? You said that she wanted to be a pilot, and we're going to turn her into a pilot. I'm not a complete monster, Meyers. Trust me, I'll take care of your little girl. She's with Lom right now."
"Is he taking her out to fly?"
"Not yet, no. She'll work around this place for a while, training on the simulator. Everyone needs to break in right, and she'll do some cleaning and grunt work while she learns how. But," he offered the man a big, toothy grin, "the moment that she's proven herself, I'll have Tudor co-pilot when she flies her first delivery run to you."
"Come on Veda."